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Colorado Football: 2016 Offensive Preview

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Can the Buffaloes offense rebound from a disappointing 2015?

Jaguars v Falcons

Last week, Ralphie Report looked at the defensive side of the ball for the Colorado Buffaloes, and it looks better than it has in quite some time over there. Last season, the Buffs reversed the fortunes of previous iterations, improving on defense while slacking on offense. The biggest problem, as fans could probably tell you, was the red zone. That UCLA game still gives me nightmares. I hear the name Ishmael Adams and my spine shivers. To help fix the scoring woes, Coach Mac gave Brian Lindgren a buddy to share the scheme with, Coach Darrin Chiaverini, a Forever Buff and everyone's favorite recruiter.

The offense loses perhaps the best player from last year's team, Nelson Spruce. As consistent as they come and pretty damn good to boot, SPRUUUUUUUUUCE was the passing offense at certain points of last year. However, as I'll expand on in a bit, losing Spruce is not the worst thing to happen to this offense and the skill position players should be talented enough to overcome the loss. Let's start by looking at the semblance of a QB depth chart.

Quarterback

*sigh* This means I have to talk about Davis Webb now, right? Ugh. Well, we were all very excited about Webb here at Ralphie Report. A senior QB who's won a bowl game and helps Sefo recover from his injury? Fits the offense we are trying to install to a tee? Great news! Nice job recruiting by the staff! Wait... he's visiting Cal? Maybe he just wants a free trip to the beach. He's still committed here officially. Spavital probably just wanted to touch base with him? Davis was so pro Buffs before, no way he backs out. Cal is reporting he committed?! What? No way. False alarm, false alarm... But he is following a lot of Cal players on Twitter. He's certainly considering them. We'll hear more after he's done with Finals.

And scene. Here's the new depth chart at quarterback:

First Name Last Name Position Height Weight Year Home State Suspended
Jordan Gehrke QB 6 1 200 Rsr Arizona Starter
Sefo Liufau QB 6 4 230 Sr Washington
Steven Montez QB 6 5 230 Rfr Texas
Sam Noyer QB 6 4 202 Fr Oregon

After that whole saga, many CU fans, by way of self trickery or endless optimism, were left saying that Sefo was better anyway and Davis Webb was scared after seeing that his rehab was coming along very nicely. While these same fans will undoubtedly be yelling for Liufau to get pulled during the season, there is some truth to that sentiment. I don't think Webb was scared, but Sefo's foot healed quite nicely and he has gone from questionable for non-conference play to practically cleared for fall camp. His on-field performance may not be on point at all times, but that man is a grinder and a leader off the field and you could not ask for a better young man to play for your team. Sefo has gone on record as saying that his forced rehabilitation has actually healed some nagging injuries of his, such as his shoulder and his back. So here's the hope: A four year starter of a senior quarterback comes into his last season finally and completely healthy, takes the reins of his team, and balls out. Sefo has shown plenty of good things, and as I'll discuss later, this system is much more quarterback-friendly. He's never had a better stable of skill position players and the offensive line, God willing, should be the best it's been in a while. Yes, Sefo has had as many negatives as positives in his career, but his job has never been easier. Liufau should be much improved this year, and if he's not, we're in trouble, because there is not much proven behind him.

Yikes. There is not much to go off in this depth chart. A converted linebacker/receiver, a backup that has not shown well thus far in game action, and two frosh with zero game action. Welcome to the 2016 Colorado Buffaloes quarterbacks. The next off the bench, should something happen to Sefo, would likely be Steven Montez. Fair warning, like many fans, I'm in LOVE with his potential. Montez has a cannon attached to his torso, rockets for legs, and he's big enough to be a tank. I'm only slightly exaggerating. He is the most exciting QB that Buff fans have looked at in quite some time and the hope is that certain early non-conference games (sorry, Idaho State) get so out of hand early that Montez could a lot of game action before he's thrown into the hellfire that is Pac-12 conference play. Steven has all the tools, he just needs to put them together in his toolbelt. If and when he does, I have no doubt he'll do great.

This is where I would talk about Sheriron Jones if I wasn't shorting out my keyboard with my salty, salty tears. So we move to Jordan Gehrke. He has served the Buffs well for quite some time, and the junior college transfer enters his final year with the Buffs. Gehrke had a great spring game, but that always seems to be the case with him. When he played against Oregon two years ago and Utah last season, the game proved to be too "big" for him, and his performance dropped. Hopefully, he can rise from the occasion rather than shrink from it, because his legs and his arm could help CU. Next, we have Jaleel Awini, who should only get quarterback duty in an option type scenario. Awini is an Athlete with a capital A, and should get on the field in some way. I'll revisit him in the wide receiver section. Finally, we have Sam Noyer. Coaches should do anything they can to redshirt incoming freshmen quarterbacks, and Noyer is no exception. He is the most polished QB recruit CU has had in quite some time, meaning if worst comes to worst, he could probably be thrown out there and not do terribly. Noyer follows the mold of Mike MacIntyre quarterbacks- passer first, runner second, but more than athletic enough for it to be a threat. We'll see how he does in fall camp. There have been rumors of CU going after some grad transfer quarterbacks, but I don't know if that is going anywhere.

Running Backs/George Frazier

This position is one of the biggest bright spots on next year's team. Deep talent, high end athleticism, and great, varying skill sets make for a good combination. Plus, the best CU player of all time is coaching the position again, Darian Hagan. A full-time position coach should help hurry the development of the young guns and polish the old(er) players. CU looks to the platoon system once again for running backs, though Hagan expresses a preference for a bell cow to rely on if they're really feeling it (See Stewart, Speedy). Due to the committee approach of the position, I'm going to organize alphabetically remaining rather than starter/depth. Here's the eligibility chart:

First Name Last Name Position Height Weight Year Home State Suspended
Michael Adkins RB 5 10 205 RJr California Starter
Beau Bisharat RB 6 2 210 Fr California
Patrick Carr RB 5 8 195 So Texas
George Frazier FB 6 2 260 Jr California
Dino Gordon RB 5 11 200 Rfr California
Donovan Lee RB 5 9 175 Jr California
Phillip Lindsay RB 5 8 180 Rjr Colorado

First up, we have senior/redshirt junior Michael Adkins, whose years left in Boulder depends on the capable and fair hands of the NCAA. Adkins has shown, at least in my eyes, that he is the best pure runner of the group, when he can stay on the field. Sharp cuts, good toughness, and plus agility all make Adkins tough to bring down and he has hovered around 5 yards/carry his entire career. The problem is, he always seems to get hurt right when he's gaining momentum for the season. Adkins finished spring ball pushed pretty far down the depth chart, given that he was hurt/shaking off the rust for most of its duration, and he'll have to prove that he's back to the coaches in the fall.

Next, we have everyone's favorite Buff, Phillip Lindsay. His mouth is bigger than his frame, and his heart is even bigger than that. Lindsay runs with more power than should be allowed to someone with a 5'8 frame and only 180 pounds. Lindsay should get a significant amount of carries, probably about the same amount that he did last year (140). I've been vocal in my belief that Lindsay would function better in a scat back role with a little less action thrown his way. Phillip plays with his hair on fire, it's the only way he knows how. To reduce his injury risk and maximize his energy, I think he should play 15-20 BIG snaps a game. He's a good receiver and blocker, so put him in on some obvious passing downs, even for a draw. Give him a few odd carries in a series, then take him out before he wears down. But my feeling is that the staff thinks he's more valuable than that (he probably is). Lindsay should also be taken off of his kickoff return duties, which should keep him more fresh. Buff fans are excited to see what he can do in this new offense as well, which seems tailor-made for a quick, tough runner. Could Lindsay be the Deandre Washington of the Buffs?

Speaking of Deandre Washington, no one fits this offense better than CU's five-tool player, Donovan Lee. You want tough running between the tackles? You want a slot receiver? You want a screen to go 50 yards? Lee serves all your needs and more. Shifty, speedy, and strong, Lee can slither into holes that close too fast for normal backs and bounce off would-be tacklers. Now before I get too ra-ra, Lee also can't handle the beating of playing every down. The only reason he was not a four-star recruit and CU was able to land him was because of his diminutive frame. Lee also hasn't mastered pass-blocking, but maybe a full-time position coach could help with that. Lee certainly has the natural athleticism and vision to make a big impact this year, and I expect that no one running back benefitted from the hurry-up scheme change that CU implemented in the spring.

True sophomore Patrick Carr is the next back to look at. He has been exciting CU fans since he made 6A Texas high school defenses look like their feet were stuck in cement. A signing day surprise, Carr introduced himself to the Pac-12 after breaking the century mark in the heartbreaker against UCLA. Really, when talking about Patrick, you need one word: Calves. Shoot, that's not it. Tree-trunks. No. Damn. Speed. There it is. Carr ran a 10.76 100 meter dash in high school and he now runs track for CU as well. Watching Patrick run is like being transferred back to 1994, when it seemed like the whole team was that fast. Carr needs to work on hitting the hole hard and fast, as well as finding the hole in the first place. If he does that (and the offensive line can actually open up those holes), Carr should run away (heh) with the lion's share of the carries. He's too physically talented to keep off the field.

Redshirt freshman Dino Gordon is next, but given his uncertain future (suspended indefinitely), I'll hold off on projecting where he fits.

Finally, we reach the incoming stud. The favorite surprise of this last year's signing day. The Beau of the 2016 class. The darling of Beaulder. I ran out of puns, thankfully, but Beau Bisharat comes into CU with a lot of fanfare. The past three running backs I've detailed have been lightning. Quick backs, good hands, electrifying play. Well, Bisharat brings the thunder. All of 6'2 and close to 225, Bisharat bruises defenders and hits more than he gets hit. It's tough not to put too much expectation on the highest rated freshman since Kenneth Crawley, but CU fans should temper their excitement. He still has to get acclimated to the college game and may take a while to adjust. Beau Bisharat is a name that Buffs will hear a lot for the next four years, and he has the potential to be an every down back at a high level. For now, expect him to get short yardage carries and some fullback duties. I would love to use him as an H-back and get him to use his hands out of the backfield. Play-action fullback slides, where the fullback sneaks across the line unguarded to catch a wide open pass and turn upfield, would be perfect for his skillset. Whatever the coaches do with him, he will be a big asset this year.

Finally, we get to the only true fullback on the roster and the most underappreciated player on the team, George Frazier. Here's an example:

That's just a little taste of what the Train can do. For such a large body, he should not be able to shake and move like he does. Frazier is a unique weapon, and one that no other Pac-12 team can exactly match with a defender. The Buffs are in a position where they have to maximize every possible advantage they might have, and George is a big one. Frazier will line up as an in-line tight end as well as a fullback, and he should be featured much more heavily in the passing game. Dumping off to him in the flat is a nice guaranteed way to gain at least five yards. Or, better yet, getting more creative, have him line up as a tight end and then sprint out to the boundary to get a nice, big blocker for a wide receiver screen. It's a scary thought for DB's and one that should cross the coaches mind.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Obviously, the receivers lose a big one in Nelson Spruce, but if you can believe me, this group hasn't looked better than this in probably a decade. Instead of relying a ridiculous talent in Paul Richardson or a crazy good technician in Spruce, this group has depth, talent, and variety. A big name transfer, a returning stud, and exciting freshmen in this group. Devin Ross excited to show off:

This is who will suit up at receiver for the Buffs next season:

First Name Last Name Position Height Weight Year Home State Suspended
Bryce Bobo WR 6 2 185 Rjr California Starter
Chris Bounds TE 6 4 245 Rfr California
Kabion Ento WR 6 3 175 Jr Arkansas
Shay Fields WR 5 11 180 Jr California
Johnny Huntley WR 6 3 205 Fr Florida
Sean Irwin TE 6 3 245 Sr Texas
Justin Jan WR 6 3 205 Rfr Arizona
Tony Julmisse WR 6 1 190 Fr Florida
Dylan Keeney TE 6 6 220 Rso California
Jay MacIntyre WR 5 10 185 Rso Colorado
Derrion Rakestaw WR 6 2 175 Fr Georgia
Devin Ross WR 5 9 180 Rjr California
Lee Walker WR 6 0 175 Rso California
Juwann Winfree WR 6 3 205 Jr New Jersey

As you can see, this is a deep, experienced group. The most exciting, and most unknown, member of the group is Juwann Winfree, a former Maryland player who comes to Boulder by way of Coffeyville. Winfree is my ideal outside receiver. He fills his 6'3, 210 lb frame well and has two years with the Buffs. Strong enough to box out the cornerbacks and fast enough to outrun everyone else, Winfree should help pick up the slack left by Nelson Spruce. His production remains largely unknown at this level, but his All-freshman selection at Maryland has certainly left a good impression. Y'all remember Darius Watts, the short-lived star for the Broncos at the end of the Jake Plummer era? Winfree reminds me of him, which is awesome because he was the best. Big, strong, and great after the catch.

Across the field from him is Shay Fields, a polished wideout and budding CU star. Shay was blowing up HARD last year until he got hurt against Arizona. In 7 games, he had 32 catches, 504 yards and 4 touchdowns and was ready to get his first 1000 yard season. Instead, he watched the next few games on the sideline and never got back in the groove. If Fields can build on a solid freshman season and an encouraging sophomore one, he will have more than enough balls thrown this way. Shay could really blow up with his combination of speed, route-running and elusiveness.

In the slot, the Buffs have a lot of options. Devin Ross separated himself this spring as the number one option, and his speed could blow some teams wide open. Ross has struggled with drops in the past, but if he can get his hands on the same level as the rest of his game, good luck to the Pac-12's nickel backs. Ross stands to benefit the most from his new position coach, Darrin Chiaverini. The new offense that he helped install gets athletes in wide open space, where Ross should excel.

Sean Irwin enters his senior year as the de facto three-year starter. Irwin is a much more traditional tight end than we as CU fans are used to seeing in the Conference of Champions. A plus blocker that lines up next to the right tackle 99% of the time, Irwin is a throwback to John Mackey and Mark Bavaro, where they block first and catch second. Irwin should be featured more in the passing game than he ever has before. He has proven to be a nice threat down the seam for the offense, and he should be utilized to chip block (helping the protection) and safety valving out for Sefo. Irwin would be a very nice option on those 3rd and 4s, where he can run three yards, sit, and fall forward.

Backing up the deadly trio for the Buffs at wide receiver is an interesting mix of talent. Jaleel Awini, as discussed earlier, is too great of an athlete to keep off the field. 6'2 and ripped at 220, Awini would be a perfect choice to run a WR screen with. Awini should get spot duty at boundary receiver. Junior college transfer Kabion Ento is a 6'3 bunny: He is tall enough to not have to jump and bouncy enough to high point absolutely everything. Ento should be a great red-zone option, especially for fades to the corner of the end zone. Ento also has the added bonus of being in Boulder since January, so he has a bit of a head start. Jay MacIntyre figures to use his incredible short-area quickness and hands as a slot receiver and punt returner, but to get significantly more snaps he needs to improve as a blocker in space. He really hurt the team in that area last year. Everyone's favorite backup, Bryce Bobo, looks to continue that role after being a bit beat up during spring ball. Bobo has long intrigued fans with his blend of size, toughness, and speed, but he apparently has yet to put it all together for the coaches in practice to get a lot of snaps during the games. If Bryce got his head together and motivated himself, he could be a really special 3rd or 4th option for this offense. Lee Walker has speed to burn, but injuries have stunted his career as a Buff. He could be a nice burner option in this offense, but to expect anything concrete from him this year would be fool's gold. We finally reach redshirt freshman Justin Jan, who is more of a receiving tight end than anything. Jan will line up in the seam as a fourth option and sit in the holes of the zone and try to stretch the man defense. Jan should be exciting to watch as he is BUILT. And we finally get to the ballyhooed, yes, ballyhooed, freshman receiving class. Johnny Huntley, Anthony (or Tony on the official roster) Julmisse, and Derrion Rakestraw all come into Boulder as athletic specimens. Rakestraw will likely redshirt, as he is way too skinny (6'2, 175) for conference play, but he has some hops and great all-around athleticism. If he takes a year to just lift and study, he is going to come into next year as an absolute animal. Next, we have Julmisse, who was recruited as a scat back that will also split out wide quite a bit. Anthony is a nightmare in the open field, possessing a rare blend of speed, ferocity, and sharp cuts. Hailing from Miami, he brings that South Florida speed to CU and if he does not redshirt, should get quite a bit of time at slot receiver. He is too good of an athlete to keep off the field in my opinion. Finally, and I'm sorry for taking this long to get there, we have Johnny Huntley, who many (myself included) have pegged as the next great Buff receiver. Huntley is all of 6'3 and he can do things like this:

Johnny Huntley has ridiculous talent and picked the Buffs over the likes of TCU, Tennessee, and Washington. As high school teammates, Julmisse and Huntley will put their mark on CU in the next four years.

For the tight ends, there is not much behind Irwin. George Frazier will likely play quite a bit as a tight end, but behind him is Dylan Keeney and Chris Bounds. Keeney is a huge athlete, but he has struggled to put on the necessary weight after his injury problems. Chris Bounds, however, just redshirted and has shown well thus far in camps. I don't expect him to play much though, as when there is an in-line tight end, Sean Irwin or George Frazier will get the snaps.

Offensive Line

Now, admittedly, this is my area of least expertise, so I will keep it short. There are two things I feel I need to say at the outset.

One: Klayton Adams will make this unit play with much more emotion and enthusiasm.

Two: The scheme is set up to make pass blocking (and pass throwing) as easy and painless as possible.

With that in mind, here's the offensive line eligibility chart:

First Name Last Name Position Height Weight Year Home State Suspended
Shane Callahan OL 6 6 310 Rsr Colorado Starter
Aaron Haigler OL 6 7 270 Rfr California
Jonathan Huckins OL 6 4 310 Jr Texas
Jeromy Irwin OL 6 5 300 Rjr Texas
Josh Kaiser OL 6 5 290 Rso California
Alex Kelley C 6 2 315 Rsr (G) California
Gerrad Kough OL 6 4 295 Rjr California
Sam Kronshage OL 6 6 280 Rjr Texas
John Lisella OL 6 4 295 Rso (G) Colorado
Tim Lynott OL 6 2 300 Rfr Colorado
Chance Lytle OL 6 7 290 Fr Texas
Dillon Middlemiss OL 6 5 290 Rfr Colorado
Isaac Miller OL 6 7 270 Rfr (G) Colorado
Colby Pursell OL 6 4 290 Fr California
Colin Sutton OL 6 5 285 Rjr California
Hunter Vaughn OL 6 7 275 Fr Colorado
Sully Wiefels OL 6 3 315 Sr Idaho

Given that there's a lot of what I don't know, let's talk about what I do know. Alex Kelley will probably start at center. He is experienced and huge and did pretty well last year. Tim Lynott may sneak in and take his spot, as reports out of spring ball were very encouraging, but I would expect Lynott to be first lineman off the bench as a redshirt freshman. Next to Kelley will be Gerrad Kough and one of Jonathan Huckins, John Lisella, and Tim Lynott. Kough is plenty big enough and plays with a mean streak. Huckins is big and moves well but struggles with assignments and foot speed at times, while Lisella moves very well for a man his size, though he may not be big enough for full time play. Lynott is obviously a very exciting prospect, but counting on a lineman that's never been in a live game could be troublesome. On the tackle spots will likely be Shane Callahan and Jeromey Irwin. With 5 years and 4 years of experience respectively, the bookends have the size and experience to handle anything thrown at them. Irwin was having a great year before his injury last year and looks to re-establish himself as a premier tackle. Callahan has moved around a lot since transferring from Auburn, but hopefully he finds his final home as right tackle.

Now, for the backups, I can't help you that much. The biggest takeaway is in that chart right there. Heights and weights. I do know that Aaron Haigler and Isaac Miller have been turning heads this spring and have to continue to put on weight. I also know that the incoming recruits will all redshirt or grayshirt. No immediate starts. Sorry, I'm not a big hog expert.

Scheme

Here's where it gets real interesting for the Buffs. Brian Lindgren is still calling the plays for CU for the fourth year in a row; that's about all that's stayed the same. In comes wrecking ball Darrin Chiaverini to knock down everything and rebuild it better. He is essentially Ty from Extreme Home Makeover. "Chiv" has brought his Texas Tech giddy up to the Buffs, and CU should be moving at mach speed this fall. While CU is keeping some of the same concepts, the Buffs will be spreading out more than previously and will have no down time. CU was already one of the faster teams in the country in terms of plays run last year, but to take full advantage of the altitude, they will be stampeding (heh) all the time. Expect four receiver sets, quick outs, draws, and swing passes to the backs. Chiv will have to work on the red zone, and to that, I expect he will use the size that CU has at the skill position. Winfree, Huntley, Ento, Frazier, and Bisharat, who scores first? Should be an exciting year for the offense and one that we all will love to watch.